Nepal Drains Threatening Glacial Lake Near Mount Everest

Nov 01, 2016 07:02 AM EDT

The dangers of climate change were successfully avoided by Nepal by draining part of a giant glacial lake near Mount Everest. The melting of the Himalayan glaciers due to global warming has reached an alarming rate, creating huge glacial lakes that pose an active threat to surrounding mountain communities.

Imja Tsho, located at an altitude of 5,010 metres (16,437 feet), just 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) south of the world's highest peak, was considered the fastest-growing glacial lake in Nepal. The Nepal government coordinated with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to drain the lake and prevent future floods. Since the devastation of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake last year, the Himalayan nation has been on heightened alert regarding flash flooding from glacial lakes.

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Between 1984 and 2009, the surface area of the lake expanded from 0.4 to 1.01 square kilometers. This has raised concerns that it may soon overflow and flood villages downstream. Around 3,000 glacial lakes can be found in Nepal.

Over a hundred local high-altitude workers and 40 Nepal army personnel completed the project, airlifting or using yaks to transport the necessary equipment. "A 45-meter long tunnel was constructed to aid outflow of the lake downstream. We have also installed a mechanical gate to control the discharge," said Lieutenant Colonel Bharat Lal Shrestha, the leader of the army team.

"Draining the lake was on the priority of the government because of its high risk. We have successfully mitigated a disaster right now," Top Bahadur Khatri, the project manager of the Community-Based Flood and Glacial Lake Outburst Risk Reduction Project, stated. "Our plan is to now replicate the work in other high-risk glacial lakes," Khatri said.

The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development published a study using satellite imagery to provide evidence that Nepal's glaciers had diminished by nearly a quarter from its former size between 1977 and 2010.

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